Dispersal responses override density effects on genetic diversity during post-disturbance succession

Annabel L. Smith, Erin L. Landguth, C. Michael Bull, Sam C. Banks, Michael G. Gardner, Don A. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Dispersal fundamentally influences spatial population dynamics but little is known about dispersal variation in landscapes where spatial heterogeneity is generated predominantly by disturbance and succession. We tested the hypothesis that habitat succession following fire inhibits dispersal, leading to declines over time in genetic diversity in the early successional gecko Nephrurus stellatus. We combined a landscape genetics field study with a spatially explicit simulation experiment to determine whether successional patterns in genetic diversity were driven by habitat-mediated dispersal or demographic effects (declines in population density leading to genetic drift). Initial increases in genetic structure following fire were likely driven by direct mortality and rapid population expansion. Subsequent habitat succession increased resistance to gene flow and decreased dispersal and genetic diversity in N. stellatus. Simulated changes in population density alone did not reproduce these results. Habitat-mediated reductions in dispersal, combined with changes in population density, were essential to drive the field-observed patterns. Our study provides a framework for combining demographic, movement and genetic data with simulations to discover the relative influence of demography and dispersal on patterns of landscape genetic structure. Our results suggest that succession can inhibit connectivity among individuals, opening new avenues for understanding how disturbance regimes influence spatial population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20152934
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1827
StatePublished - Mar 23 2016


  • Demographic population model
  • Density dependence
  • Fire
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Landscape genetics
  • Movement ecology


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